Co-founder, along with Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñárritu, of the Mexico-based production company Cha Cha Cha Films, award-winning filmmaker Guillermo del Toro has established a wildly successful career making films on his own terms. With the production company, del Toro has been able to cultivate new homegrown talent as well as produce the work of friends and filmmakers he admires, most recently Carlos Cuarón's feature-length directorial debut Rudo Y Cursi. With the Hellboy movies and the Oscar-winning Pan's Labrynth, his macabre sensibilities fully infected the cinematic zeitgeist and skyrocketed him into the public sphere, and much like Tim Burton before him, del Toro has cultivated a distinctly visual brand of deranged beauty. Recently, Slant caught up with del Toro in Beverly Hills to discuss his work with his fellow Mexican filmmakers and how much his life will change once principal shooting begins on The Hobbit.
Slant: How did Cha Cha Cha come about?
Guillermo del Toro: [Cuarón, González Iñárritu, and I] are already so deeply embedded in each other's movies that we thought we should formalize it. We don't operate differently. We operate the same way we always operated, which is: We ask an opinion of each other and we ask the advice of each other. Now it's formal, not very different.
Slant: How long have you known Alfonso and Alejandro?
GDT: Alfonso, 22 years.
Slant: Did you go to school with him?
GDT: No, he went to school in Mexico and he was expelled. But I went to school in Guadalajara, but it was a very small film school that we created. It became the film school of the university—but we created it. There was no film school in Guadalajara as a kid, so we said "let's make one" and eventually the university formalized it.
Slant: Were you teaching there for a while?
GDT: The first year I was learning, the second year I was teaching.
Slant: Did you like being a professor?
GDT: Yeah, I'd actually love to teach again. I really enjoy that process.
Slant: When did you meet Alejandro?
GDT: I met Alejando either in '99 or 2000. Alfonso called me and said, "There's this guy who did a movie called Amores Perros and it's a fantastic movie, but it's really long. We need a guy who is really stubborn to fight him in the editing room, and everybody thinks of you about that." I saw that movie and I called Alejandro out of the blue and I said, "Look, it's a great movie, but it's too long." Depending on who you ask, we took out a lot of time. Alejandro started saying it was seven, I thought it was 17 minutes, and now he says it was three. [Laughs] Regardless, we took out a chunk of time.
Slant: How hands-on were each of you on Rudo y Cursi?
GDT: As I said, I knew Alfonso and I knew Carlos for 22 years. I knew Carlos when he was a kid. We talked about the screenplay, we talked about the storyboards, we talked about the dailies. Alfonso and I supervised some of the final visual effects, but it's Carlos's movie. We were not in any way responsible for any of his failures or virtues. It's his movie.
Slant: That's an amazing opportunity for Carlos to be working with friends.
GDT: That's what we kept telling him.
Slant: No one would give him that much control I'm guessing.
GDT: It was a privileged first outing because he got the money and the access and the size of movie he needed.
Slant: What is your ideal location to shoot at? If everything you made were suited to Mexico, would that be the ideal place?
GDT: In an ideal world, yes. I would shoot all movies in Guadalajara, my hometown. But it is not an ideal world.
Slant: Did you know any kids growing up like Rudo and Cursi?
GDT: Yeah, some, but I don't give a shit about football. I knew some but I wouldn't say they were huge influences on my life.
Slant: Do you enjoy any sports?
GDT: Nothing. I fucking have no interest in sports. Watching them, playing them, nothing. Swimming—I love swimming. It's sort of a liberation. I have whale genes in more ways than one.
Slant: Where are you and your family settled right now?
GDT: We've now moving to New Zealand. I already moved.
Slant: Oh yeah?
GDT: They're joining shortly.
Slant: Are you excited about living there?
GDT: I love New Zealand. Absolutely, utterly love New Zealand. I'm head over heels.
Slant: Were you worried taking The Hobbit on or were you just invigorated?
GDT: Invigorated. I think that fear is not a good advisor.
Slant: How much of the sets and props are still left over from The Lord of the Rings?
GDT: Some, but I won't use barely any.
Slant: Do you, a la Pan's Labrynth, create this whole world that is distinctly yours or do you want to reference Peter Jackson's?
GDT: I must say we don't go about it either way. We go about saying what we want the movie to be. I don't want to purposely make it mine and I don't want to purposely make it a copy.
Slant: An extension of?
GDT: No, I think that would be very boring. It would be boring to even try it. I'm not doing an imitation. I think the universe should feel the same, in other words, but the gaze and the look of the universe should be [my own].
Slant: Do you find this opportunity more challenging than making an original film?
GDT: They're different challenges. Look, to create something completely from scratch is very challenging, but it is a different sort of challenge. No movie is easy. The Hobbit has so far been an absolute delight to do.
Slant: Stemming from making smaller films in Guadalajara—wait, was Cronicas shot in Guadalajara?
GDT: In Ecuador.
Slant: Well, do you feel like you have a lot more freedom with money behind you now?
GDT: I think when you have the money you're more restrictive creatively, and when you're free creatively, you'd like the money. I don't think you can have the money and the creative freedom at the same time. It's never happened to me, and I don't think it ever well. I think there is such a thing as having too much freedom and too much money, and it never leads to great films, I don't think. I've never seen a movie that was done with unlimited budget and unlimited creativity that was great.
Slant: As successful as you would hope…
GDT: No, not even when you think of movies as big as the Lord of the Rings trilogy. People imagined what they cost, but they were costing half or less of what the normal Hollywood blockbuster was costing. It was creativity that held them together.
Slant: Because he had a set budget for all three films, right?
GDT: That's correct. I think he did a wonderful, fantastic job for the money.
Slant: I think that was one of the most memorable experiences sitting in the theater, seeing that first Lord of the Rings film.
GDT: The same with me.
Slant: Have you seen Watchmen yet?
GDT: No, I just got in last night. I'm seeing it today or tomorrow.
Slant: Are you a big fan of the graphic novel?
Slant: How do you feel about Hollywood making larger-than-life experiences for these beloved comics? Do you think they should remain untouched?
GDT: You know, as Raymond Chandler once said, "The books are still on the shelf." When somebody told him we don't like one of the adaptations of one of his books, he said, "The books are on the shelf, they haven't changed." A good or a bad movie from a different source doesn't change the source. I don't see how they could be damaging. On the other hand, they can increase awareness of the original work, to a point. I don't think it's a bad thing. As long as they don't go back and edit the original novel, I'm fine with it.